Though Israel's national anthem is called "Hatikvah," the hope, the mood in Israel is not always hopeful. With terrorist rockets landing regularly in Sderot (a small town in southern Israel that borders the Gaza Strip), key government officials under criminal investigation, and no peace deal with Palestinians in sight, many Israelis are concerned about their country's future. To find out what some kids in Israel think, BABAGANEWZ asked Dr. Daniel Gordis, a respected author and educator, to talk with four Israeli teens. Here are excerpts from their conversation:
Hadar Draiman, 15, grade 10, Masorti High School
Avner Grinbaum, 18, grade 12, Har tman High School
Jonathan Howard, 17, grade 12, Hartman High School
Eliana Voss, 15, grade 10, Tehilla School
The Facilitator: Dr. Daniel Gordis
Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President of the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based research and educational institute. He is the author of numerous books on Jewish thought and has written and lectured throughout the world on Israeli society and the challenges facing the Jewish state.
DANIEL: Are you optimistic about Israel's future, or are you worried?
AVNER: I know the Israeli people are good people, and I have a lot of confidence in what this country can achieve. However, I think that instead of complaining about Sderot and theintifada [Palestinian uprising], people should actually start doing the best they can in order to ease the suffering that people are enduring.
JONATHAN: I think that Avner is correct; there's a lot of apathy here. Though everyone works hard to make a living, people don't have much money, which means they don't have enough time to volunteer and help others. Everyone has a sense that they are one of the poor people. As long as that continues, Israel's going to be put into tighter knots.
ELIANA: I'm very optimistic about where Israel is going. I don't think the government is what makes Israel; I think it's the people. A lot of people want to make a difference, but you need that push to make it happen.
HADAR: I agree with Eliana. Israel has proven before that it can do great things. I do believe that there is hope for Israel.
DANIEL: The Israeli government has recently endured multiple scandals, and public confidence in elected officials is low. Do you share this lack of faith in the government?
JONATHAN: Citizens in Israel vote for a political party and not individual candidates. As a result, you don't have direct representation of the people, which can be depressing when things don't seem to change. Then people lose faith.
AVNER: In previous governments, there was always a sense of unity. There was always a feeling that the government was here to protect us against our enemies and to bring the State of Israel forward. I don't feel that way anymore. Right now, people in the government may claim they are trying to improve something, but it seems that everyone is just in this for him or herself and to make as much money as he or she can. And that impacts on the rest of the people.
HADAR: I don't think the government is the main problem. We are the government; we vote for them. We could create a new party and vote differently.
A Jewish State
DANIEL: Do you think the Jewish people need a state?
JONATHAN: I do. I think there was a lot of persecution in other places in the past. As long as an independent State of Israel exists, another Holocaust can never happen.
DANIEL: But what if [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad attacks? I don't understand the argument that we are safer here. I could actually argue that during the intifada, the most dangerous place to be a Jew was in Israel.
JONATHAN: But the same thing could happen in the United States. You still have a lot of antisemitism around, while there's not a strong probability of genocide in Israel.
ELIANA: Israel has belonged to the Jews since Biblical times, because God promised Israel to the Jews. And we have been fighting for this country, so we are stronger and safer being here.
AVNER: If we look at Jewish culture, literature, and poetry, we see that the only time we Jews have been happy as human beings and as a nation was when we had our own state in Israel. I think the only way the Jewish people cana chieve true happiness is if we have our own state. Like our national anthem says, "l'hiyot am h. ofshi b'artzeinu," to be a free nation in our country.
DANIEL: Do you think you will see peace in your lifetimes?
HADAR: Yes. If I say it won't happen, then it may not happen. If I believe in it enough, I think it could happen. I believe we can make it.
AVNER: I wish I could be so optimistic. I really hope that we will eventually see peace, but unfortunately I can't believe that-not in the next dozens of years.
ELIANA: I think peace starts with smaller things. There is always going to be hatred in the world, but there are many programs where Arabs and Israelis meet each other and become good friends. That's where it begins.
DANIEL: On a scale of one to ten, with one being the worst, how do you feel about being Israeli and growing up in Israel?
JONATHAN: 6. I'm glad that I grew up here, know Hebrew, can read Tanakh, and have access to Jewish cultural history, which I think is very important. On the other hand, I'm not happy with the way things are going. For example, my father earns a small fraction of the salary he received in Australia as a teacher; his 20 years of teaching there are not counted in Israel.
DANIEL: Where does your optimism come from?
JONATHAN: I know there is a community of good people here, and even if they aren't going to change Israel into a [perfectly] happy country, I still know that you can find places where you can do good things and meet good people.
ELIANA: I get it from the nature of Israelis. We're special people, and we care a lot. If there is something we can change [for the better], we will do everything we can to change it.
AVNER: For me, it's from anashim tovim b'emtza haderekh-good people you meet along the way. I believe in the goodness of humankind and the goodness of the people of Israel specifically.
HADAR: Like Eliana, I feel like family here. I like Israel. Every time I come back from America, it feels like I'm coming home.
DANIEL: You all actually said something very similar: It's the people.